Dont wait to pick the low-hanging fruit.
Most experts believe that collaborative technologies will have settled into a new state of equilibrium within three years, with more clearly defined segments, more mature infrastructure, and tools and applications that deliver more measurable value. Jim Lundy, a Gartner vice president, predicts that a few dominant suite vendors will provide the overall platform both for popular collaboration features such as Web conferencing and workspaces, and for newer technologies such as presence engines, which let people know instantaneously who is reachable via instant messaging. In turn, those common platforms will be useful to in-house developers and to enterprise-application and other software vendors, who will embed collaborative features into their industry- or process-specific applications.
Convergence will continue along multiple lines, according to Coleman at Collaborative Strategies. First, synchronous and asynchronous tools will be more commonly combined within an application or through a portal. Although workers might rely on workspaces much like Honeywells TeamRooms for sharing documents and files asynchronously, they may occasionally wish to chat while there. Workspaces that include presence engines (e.g., Beverly, Mass.-based Groove Networks Inc.) permit that today. In fact, presence engines are emerging as a powerful way to consistently embed time-saving, real-time communications into otherwise asynchronous or automated business applications, from logistics management to sales and customer service, notes Jeanette Barlow, market manager for IBM workplace client technology.
Audio, video and data conferencing will also continue to converge. Many more organizations will rely on in-house Web-conferencing systems, drawn by the control and cost savings they will afford compared to hosted models, especially once these systems support Voice over IP as a standard feature. VoIP may be the development that causes companies to go from piloting Web-conferencing systems to fully deploying them. Says Jim Freeze, a senior vice president at Centra: "Today, the majority of Web conferencing uses IP to control sessions, push slides and keep everyone in sync. But the audio conference is a separate hookup. Over time, most of the audio will take place over IP. The cost savings will be enormous."
Meanwhile, CIOs will be faced with some difficult decisions as they work to rationalize their current collaboration tools while building a more useful and standardized platform for the future. Gytis Barzdukis, director of office system product management at Microsoft, thinks individual productivity may suffer, at least in the short term. "Personal productivity has been improved through technology. Now were looking at team and organizational productivity."
Ask your IT staff:
- What will we lose if we eliminate the ad hoc collaboration tools we currently use?Ask your business managers:
- Are you willing to sacrifice some individual productivity to further the goals of your business unit?Ask your telecom staff:
- What is the best way to deliver audio conferencing services and why? How will VoIP affect these services?Karen S. Henrie has been researching, analyzing and writing about information technology and business strategy for nearly 20 years.